Barnwell law office loses records in fire

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News 12 at 6 o'clock, July 23, 2007

BARNWELL, S.C.---Investigators are trying to find the cause of a fire that damaged a law office.

Flames burned through the Motley-Rice law firm in Barnwell last night. There were no employees in the building at the time, so no one was hurt, but the legal records that were stored in the building may be lost forever.

All that's left of the law firm now is debris and ashes.

"We arrived up front and we had smoke present from all sides of the building," Fire Chief Thomas Dicks recalled.

The fire began last night, but firefighters were still working today to put out the flames. People are still in shock, especially the owner, Joe Rice.

"I've been practicing law with this firm since 1979, and there's a lot of history in that building," he said. "A lot of work,'s something that you never expect to happen."

The building was used to store the legal records of thousands of people in South Carolina, Georgia and many other states.

"There are a lot of people in Barnwell who knew these files and they knew these people. So we'll just have to work through that," Rice said.

So, what happens if all of the records are destroyed?

"Ask me that question in about a month when I understand the answer...because right now I don't know," Rice said.

The fire chief is optimistic.

"We feel like the majority of the records have some water damage (at worst)," he said. Hopefully that's the case.

If there's any good news that could come out of this fire, it's that no one was hurt.

The owner thinks the fire may have been electrical, but investigators won't say that just yet.

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